The Lord’s Prayer
August 21, 2011
“Lead us not into temptation.”
And lead us not into temptation. What does this mean? God indeed tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and obtain the victory.
In the final three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer we ask our Father in heaven for what we need to go to heaven. God will bring us from this sinful world to himself in heaven by forgiving us our trespasses, by leading us not into temptation, and by delivering us from evil. Today we consider specifically the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.”
Would God actually lead us into temptation? The biblical answer is quite clear. Listen to the words of St. James as recorded in the first chapter of his Epistle:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
Here the Scriptures make it plain that God cannot tempt anyone to sin. God is incapable of sin. He is the source of all that is good. If it appears that God has given us evil things this is because appearances are deceiving. It has become fashionable to put God on trial. Especially in light of the horror inflicted on this world during the 20th Century by such devils as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Mao Tse Tung, some people have suggested that God himself is to blame for the evil in this world. But God is not the author of sin and evil. He cannot be. Luther’s Small Catechism says it rightly that there is a threefold source of all evil in this world: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. As we say in the Catechism, “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world and our own flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into misbelief, despair and other great shame and vice.”
The devil tempts us with false doctrine. The world tempts us with false promises. Our sinful flesh tempts us with a false faith.
The devil is the author of false doctrine. Of the false prophets, Jesus said: “By their fruits you shall know them. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” The devil lies. God tells us the truth. Jesus called the devil a liar and the father of lies. He called him a murderer. He murders people by lying to them. False teaching produces false faith and false faith cannot save. St. Paul warns Timothy of the “doctrines of demons.” All false teaching comes from the father of lies and the murderer of souls. God sanctifies us by his truth. False doctrine is a demonic assault on our faith.
When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are asking God to preserve us from false teaching. All false teaching is directed against the saving truth about Jesus. Not all false teaching is directly focused on Jesus. The devil is quite clever. Sometimes the indirect attack is as potent as the direct attack. The devil attacks Jesus by attacking something else that is closely tied to Jesus. Specifically, he attacks the Bible and the sacraments.
The devil has always attacked the Bible from outside of the Church. During the past two hundred years or so his attack has been taking place within the Church. Seminary professors who train the Church’s pastors question the reliability of the Bible’s historical accounts. If the devil can get people to question the truthfulness of the Bible, he has destroyed the source and the standard of Christian teaching. If the Bible can be mistaken, what shall be the judge of the church’s teaching? So the devil attacks the Bible. He attempts to debunk the historical accuracy of what the Bible presents as history. For example, he teaches that the biblical accounts of Creation, Adam and Eve, the Flood, the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, and many other historical events are not history but myth. He employs prestigious and respected theologians to cast doubt on the reliability of the Holy Scriptures.
The attack on the historical reliability of the Bible is an assault on various biblical teachings. In Genesis we learn about marriage between one man and one woman. But if this account isn’t literally true, perhaps the church could accommodate a teaching about men marrying men or women marrying women. In Genesis we learn of the historic fall into sin. If that never actually happened, the doctrine of original sin is also lost.
The attack on the Bible is an attack on Christ. When Christians lose confidence in the Bible as the inerrant written word of God it is only a matter of time before they lose the Christ of the Bible as the sinless incarnate Word who came to be our Savior. The attack on the Bible is the devil’s attack on Jesus.
The devil also directs his attacks on the sacraments. The Bible teaches us that Holy Baptism is how God washes away our sin. It is a gracious washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s doing, not ours. The minister is nothing but God’s instrument. The one who is baptized is receiving God’s favor, not doing God a favor. By turning Holy Baptism into a work that we do instead of a means of grace from God, the devil deprives us of the comfort baptism provides. He thus attacks our faith. He does the same thing with the Lord’s Supper. By persuading people that the sacramental elements are not really Christ’s body and blood but only bread and wine by which we remember a Jesus who is bodily absent from his church the devil robs Christians of Christ’s gracious presence. They no longer look to this sacrament as providing forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Since Christ comes to us in the word and sacraments the devil tries to discredit the Bible and the sacraments.
His real goal is to sever the Christian from Christ. He wants to destroy our faith. He doesn’t want us trusting in the blood that Jesus shed to forgive us our sins. He wants us trusting in what we do, not in what Christ has done for us. Only those who know that Jesus has taken away their sin can know that they stand righteous before God. This knowledge leads us from spiritual blindness to the new birth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life. It transports us to heaven. Only the preaching of the cross that is grounded in the Bible and joined to the sacraments can bring us true confidence to stand up against the devil’s temptations. As we sing:
To me the preaching of the cross is wisdom everlasting
Thy death alone redeems my loss, on thee my burden casting
I, in thy name, a refuge claim from sin and death and from all shame
Blest be thy name O Jesus!
This is the truth that the devil hates and every false teaching he has ever invented is designed to overthrow this precious gospel. The devil tempts us with false doctrine.
The world tempts us with false promises. It is easy for most people to see how pathetic the drug addict or the drunkard is. He runs after a pleasant feeling that is only temporary and he keeps on running after it even after it leaves him empty, unsatisfied, broke, out of work, with ruined relationships and broken marriage and no true friends. What does he then want to do? He wants to run right back to what caused him such misery to begin with. All the temptations of the world are like this, even the more respectable ones. Sex, power, money, or whatever other idols the world offers can never really satisfy because they cannot last. As the hymnist says, “They prove to be burdens that vex us and chafe us and true lasting happiness never vouchsafe us.” The temptations of the world offer a false hope that can never be delivered. They heap sin upon sin so that we will become so spiritually callused that repentance and forgiveness are no longer even considered. It’s not that God won’t forgive the sinner. He will. But the sinner will no longer care. The world tempts us to replace our eternal hope that we have in Christ with an empty hope.
Our sinful flesh tempts us with a false faith. The flesh isn’t just a reference to the desire to sin sexually. The flesh is simply what we in our sinful condition want. What is that? It’s the very opposite of what the Lord’s Prayer asks for! What does our sinful flesh want? Not to hallow God’s name, but to make a name for itself. Not for God’s kingdom to come, but to rule in God’s place. Not God’s will, but ours. Not daily bread, but vain riches. Not forgiveness of sins freely given by God’s grace, but rather the pride and the glory of works righteousness. The flesh, in short, loves the devil’s religions because the devil’s religions glorify sinful man and deny the grace of God in Christ.
And they leave us empty. False faith leads to despair, that is, to deny that God can do anything at all for us. Looking for God’s help apart from Jesus is to look in vain.
How does God enable us to overcome all temptation and gain the victory? He does so by directing us to Jesus. He is called, in the Epistles to the Hebrews, “The author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sate down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
He faced the temptations common to us all. He faced them as our Champion and he overcame. This means that in Christ temptation cannot destroy us. Even when we sin, he remains our Mediator. He remains our Champion. He intercedes. He leads us out of temptation into heaven.
I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me.
Within his wounds I find a stay when Satan’s power assails me.
And by his footsteps led by path I safely tread
In spite of ills that threaten may, I walk with Jesus all the way.
My walk is heavenward all the way; await my soul the morrow
When thou shalt find relief for aye from all life’s sin and sorrow
All worldly pomp be gone! To heaven I now press on.
For all the world I would not stay, my walk is heavenward all the way. Amen